Sunday, 30 December 2018

The "Comics' Tart"

"The greatest of show business mysteries was how anyone could contemplate doing a comedy show without June Whitfield." - Denis Norden

Such sad news. June Whitfield, a woman who (it seems) was hardly every off our airwaves or screens for seven decades has died at the ripe old age of 93.

The Glums, Hancock's Half Hour, Beggar Thy Neighbour, The News Huddlines, four Carry On films (Nurse, Abroad, Girls and Columbus), the radio adaptation of Miss Marple stories, Terry & June, Last of the Summer Wine, Absolutely Fabulous - she starred in them all. She was a mainstay of "straight (wo)man" roles alongside the likes of Benny Hill, The Goodies, Arthur Askey, Jimmy Edwards, Dick Emery, Frankie Howerd and Julian Clary - for which she referred to herself as "the comics' tart". Not just content with radio and TV, she also appeared in numerous stage shows - we saw her in the ENO production of On the Town in 2007.

If ever there was a woman who deserved the accolade of "national treasure" it was her.

RIP, Dame June Rosemary Whitfield DBE (11th November 1925 – 28th December 2018). We'll miss you.

More June here, here, here and here...

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Ave Wendy

"The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to "the serious." One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious." - Susan Sontag

"The experiential test of whether this art is great or good, or minor or abysmal is the effect it has on your own sense of the world and of yourself. Great art changes you." - Sister Wendy Beckett
In the 1990s here in the UK, a most unlikely telly superstar was "born".

We in Britain adore our eccentrics. It is no surprise that some of our most memorable factual TV presenters were people such as Professor Magnus Pyke, Sir Patrick Moore, Fanny Cradock, Barbara Woodhouse, Johnny Ball - all of them real-life learned experts in their field (be it science, cookery, astronomy or even dog training), yet famous because of their unconventional style of explaining things.

The sheer incongruity of a "Bride of Christ" giving "the great unwashed" the lowdown on the lustful gazes of Manet's prostitute-models, or talking about Rubens' penchant for fleshy bottoms, was an instant attraction to non-art-loving audiences and pseuds alike. Such was her popularity that she went on to conquer the airwaves on both sides of the Atlantic. The previously considered "niche" world of art became top-rating television.

Then she - being true to her habit - gave it all up and retired to her solitude. In a caravan. In the grounds of a Carmelite monastery in Norfolk.

It's such a shame the imagination-bereft, "yoof"-culture-obsessed, un-experimental bods in charge of telly programming today cannot, and probably will never, understand just why and how one unassuming nun was worth twenty of the likes of the Stacey Dooleys, Ross Kemps and Dan Snows and other assorted "celebs" bussed in to front, or do the voice-overs for, modern "documentary" fodder.

Imagine any of them being the subject of a whole musical?!

We'll never see her like again.

RIP Sister Wendy Beckett (25th February 1930 – 26th December 2018)

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Happy Crisp-mas

"The very purpose of existence is to reconcile the glowing opinion we hold of ourselves with the appalling things that other people think about us."

“Euphemisms are unpleasant truths wearing diplomatic cologne."

"Style is not the man; it is something better. It is a dizzy, dazzling structure that he erects about himself using as building materials selected elements from his own character.”

“If there were no applause and no criticism, who would you be?”

One hundred and ten years ago, an icon was born. Not in a manger, but in Sutton, South London.

All hail.

Quentin Crisp (born Denis Charles Pratt, 25th December 1908 - 21st November 1999)

Friday, 21 December 2018

A magical thing

"I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.

'We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,'
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December."

- Oliver Herford

It's Midwinter's Day, folks - the solstice, the shortest day.

Spring is indeed just around the corner; from tomorrow the days get longer...

Friday, 14 December 2018

Weekend Reading

“A book is a gift you can open again and again.” – Garrison Keillor

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Landmarks on my map

“I've got a mink from Paris,
A ring from Rome,
A whole new wardrobe in my home;
A tune from Teddy,
An Ashworth snap -
These are the landmarks on my map.
I've got just what I always wanted”

- Mari Wilson

As featured in today's Guardian, there's a faboo exhibition of 80s photography by the legendary Peter Ashworth, snapper to the stars, on in London at the moment.

Every one of these photos is iconic - literally a "snapshot" of an important era in my life.

I must go!

Mavericks - a photographic show by Peter Ashworth is on at the Lever Gallery in Goswell Road, Clerkenwell, and has been extended to 20th December 1018 by popular demand.

Friday, 7 December 2018

And the worlds built of age are a stage where we act out our lives

Very sad news today. The iconic Pete Shelley, co-founder of The Buzzcocks - the seminal Punk band who were contemporaries of the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie but whose approach to the genre took a far less antagonistic and more sexually ambiguous tone than their peers, and posed a challenge to the aggro of Punk's pogo-ing, beer-swilling, spitting fans - is dead, far too young, at 63.

As was "revealed" in a tribute article on the BBC today (as if anyone didn't already guess), Mr Shelley wrote all his lyrics in a gender-neutral fashion for a very good reason. Many Buzzcocks songs - including Orgasm Addict, What Do I Get?, and of course, their magnum opus Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've) - were, in fact written from Mr Shelley's own perspective, based upon his relationships with men (his fellow band-mate Steve Diggle included).

Here is their most enduring (and beloved) standard, by way of illustration:

Mr Shelley had in reality, of course, never hidden his true feelings. Back in the 90s, in an interview for the US fanzine Outpunk, he was very candid indeed. Here are two pages from that tome, courtesy of that sadly-missed encyclopaedia of all things homo Queer Music Heritage, that tell the story in his own words:

But, although the fey-punk legacy of the Buzzcocks is dear to our hearts here at Dolores Delargo Towers, it was a song from Mr Shelley's short-lived solo career that was the real gay anthem - a song that alone justifies Mr Shelley's place here in the Museum of Camp:

I'm the shy boy, you're the coy boy
And you know we're Homosapien too
I'm the cruiser, you're the loser
Me and you sir, Homosapien too

Homosuperior in my interior
But from the skin out
I'm Homosapien too
And you're Homosapien too

And I'm Homosapien like you
And we're Homosapien too

And I think of your eyes in the dark
And I see the star
And I look to the light
And I might wonder right where you are

All the Gods in the sky, way up high
See the world spinning 'round
But the sun and the moon
And the stars are so far from the ground

I'm the shy boy, you're the coy boy
And you know we're Homosapien too
I'm the cruiser, you're the loser
Me and you sir, Homosapien too

Homosuperior in my interior
But from the skin out
I'm Homosapien too
And you're Homosapien too

And I'm Homosapien like you
And we're Homosapien too

And the worlds built of age are a stage
Where we act out our lives
And the words in the script seem to fit
'Cept we have some surprise

I just want this to last
Or my future is past and all gone
And if this is the case
Then I'll lose in life's race from now on

Homosuperior in my interior
But from the skin out
I'm Homosapien too
And you're Homosapien too

And I'm Homosapien like you
And we're Homosapien too

And I just hope and pray
That the day of our love is at hand
You and I, me and you
We will be one from two, understand?

And the world is so wrong
That I hope that we'll be strong enough
For we are on our own
And the only thing known is our love

I don't wanna classify you
Like an animal in the zoo
But it seems good to me to know
That you're Homosapien too

I'm the shy boy, you're the coy boy

I don't wanna classify you
Like an animal in the zoo
But it seems good to me to know
That you're Homosapien too

RIP, Pete Shelley (born Peter Campbell McNeish, 17th April 1955 – 6th December 2018)

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Farewell, Trumpers

"At my age, you can say exactly what you bloody well think."

She was once invited by a magazine editor to a lunch where Nicholas Soames praised Virginia Bottomley as being “one of the chaps” in parliament. The editor found this offensive and said that a woman cannot be a chap. Trumpers took the fag out of her mouth, put down her gin and simply said: "Balls!"
The world has lost another great raconteur, one of the last remaining masters of political repartee and old-school no-nonsense forthrightness - the redoubtable Baroness Trumpington, veteran of society balls and of code-breaking at Bletchley Park during WW2 alike, who has died aged 96. We're talking of a woman who dodged the groping hands of David Lloyd-George, was a secretary to Churchill's friend and colleague Duff Cooper, became a renowned New York socialite, married a man who became a master of Eton College, entertained members of the Royal Family and partied with the Astors, and (remarkably) sparred with, yet remained a trusted ally of, Margaret Thatcher; and was a stalwart member of the Lords and Commons Pipe and Cigar Smokers' Club. Phew!

And what better way to remember the lady, who is perhaps most remembered for her "two-fingered salute" to a fellow peer, than with a few extracts from her autobiography (a book she later claimed she "never read")?
...My mother’s idea of being poor was going to the Ritz on a bus...

...I attended Miss Vacani’s School of Dance, where I learned ballroom dancing and the correct way to curtsey when presented at court. Lessons took place in a big room on the first floor of a house in Knightsbridge with all the nannies sitting upright and silent in chairs around the edge of the room. Miss Vacani, who also gave private lessons to the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, was a tubby little person who wore the most impossibly high heels. Incredibly, after a year or two of Miss Vacani, my mother removed me and sent me to learn ballet with the Ballet Rambert. Goodness knows why my mother decided that this elephant she had given birth to was going to become a graceful ballet dancer but it did at least teach me rhythm...

...Whenever we could we rushed up to London and danced all night, then ate enormous breakfasts at a Lyons Corner House, with almost everything ersatz – fake scrambled eggs, fake everything. And then the chaps would see us to Euston Station and we would take the milk train and go straight back to work. I had one dress, from Fenwick, and a black fur coat which I had bought with money I’d been given for my sixteenth birthday. It cost £15 and it looked lovely but it was skunk and if it got wet, it smelt. But I wore it through thick and thin, so I guess I just smelt. I had several things made out of curtains, too, because curtain material wasn’t rationed...

...[one evening] my companion and I headed across Mayfair to the Café de Paris, on Coventry Street near Piccadilly. It was a high-class place and a lot of famous people and members of the royal family went there. During the Blitz people went there even more because the dance floor was in the basement and they felt safe from the bombs. What they didn’t realize was that it had a glass roof. That particular night, as we got near to the Café we were held behind a police cordon. The Café had received a direct hit: the young bandleader Snake Hips Johnson, and most of his West Indian Orchestra and a lot of the people dancing had been killed. I knew a beautiful woman who survived but she lost a leg. Imagine. If we had been half an hour earlier, we would have been there, so we were very lucky...

...[In the House of Lords] Lord King of Bridgwater commented that those people who had served in the Second World War were starting to look ‘pretty old’, it was a natural reaction to stick two fingers up at him. I had thought it was between him and me, but the camera was on me, so it was between him, me and everyone who had a television. At first I tried to say I had just been primping my hair but it was perfectly obvious what I was doing so I had to admit it.

That was probably what got me picked for Have I Got News for You. I rather think they saw me making that naughty gesture and thought I might be an amusing guest. I hope I was amusing. I started off on the programme before we’d even really got going by asking why, as a 90-year-old woman, I had been asked to fill in a health and safety form to say that I was not pregnant, and it went from there...
RIP Jean Alys Barker, Baroness Trumpington DCVO PC (née Campbell-Harris, 23rd October 1922 – 26th November 2018). We'll never see her like again.

Monday, 26 November 2018

The matriarch

The eternally-revered matriarch/battleaxe/mainstay of the UK's favourite soap Coronation Street Elsie Tanner, aka Pat Phoenix, would have been 95 years old today...

Elsie Tanner quotes:
  • (about Ena Sharples): "That woman's tongue. If it was a bit longer she could shave with it."
  • "I've left home so many times me suitcases pack themselves every time I whistle."
  • "You know, they used to call us good time girls... well, we did have a good time, and a damn good time at that"
  • "Burglars in Coronation Street? It's like robbin' the blind."

Patricia Frederica Phoenix (born Patricia Frederica Manfield, 26th November 1923 – 17th September 1986)

Sunday, 25 November 2018

The Brontës probably never imagined it quite like this

Steampunks galore descended on the small Yorkshire town of Haworth, most famous as the home of the Brontë sisters, for their sixth annual festival this weekend - faboo!

About the 2018 Haworth Steampunk Weekend